Coming Home

The church we attended for the past two years closed its doors last month. In January 2008, we received a flyer in the mail and were visitors at the very first service. We got involved quickly and became part of the leadership team. Two years and just over one hundred Sunday mornings later, we were there for the very last service. That was five weeks ago.

God did great things for us, with us, in us, and through us as a church – worship, ministry, biblical teaching, spiritual growth, and loving relationships happened. People came to faith in Christ and those of us who already had a relationship with God through faith in Christ became more like Jesus. Then it was time for something great to come to an end.

A week ago Saturday (five weeks after our last service), many who attended our church services regularly and considered themselves part of the church family got together for a potluck reunion and birthday party celebration at our house. With the exception of some brother-sister, parent-child relationships, none of us had known each other prior to our coming together as a church family. But what I noticed about Saturday was how much and how deeply we had come to love and care for one another.

Prior to our gathering, anticipation ran high. Everyone looked forward with great excitement to our five-week reunion. People arrived and were met with warm and affectionate greetings of love and acceptance – greetings expressed through hugs, smiles, handshakes, laughter, arm squeezes, and enthusiastic pats on the back.

The house was filled with fun and laughter. A spirit of great joy and celebration prevailed as the afternoon stretched into evening. We all belonged. It was like “coming home” and none of us wanted the day to end. And if anyone has ever wondered if Christians know how to have fun, wonder no more. I have not laughed so hard for so long since I can remember!

I believe Heaven will be like last Saturday – like coming home; home to more love than we can imagine; home to joy, peace, and laughter; home to the welcoming and accepting arms of Jesus.

We are not at home here on earth. Things don’t work or fit together as they should. As Christ followers, we don’t “belong” here anymore. We don’t fit in. We’re only visiting this planet. Our true citizenship is in heaven. But for now we live in this foreign land – a land filled with sin, death, hate, injustice, greed, violence, indifference, pain, sorrow, and disappointment. There is restlessness deep within our spirits – an inward sense of disconnection.

But someday we will be “coming home” again to the place we belong – to that eternal reunion and celebration. I for one am not planning to miss it. How about you?

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ~ John 14:1-3

Good Noah Bad Noah

My niece has a four year-old son named Noah. He has a smile that lights up his entire face and big, brown eyes that sparkle with joy, wonder, and at times, mischief. Noah is constantly on the go. His quest to explore his world and make new discoveries in this adventure of life is contagious and sometimes gets him into trouble. He is all boy.

Being the great mom that she is, my niece is diligent in her efforts to mold and shape Noah’s character. She teaches him that right choices are rewarded and wrong choices have consequences. In a recent attempt to avoid punishment for such a wrong choice, four year-old Noah came up with an astounding defense strategy.

“But mommy, I didn’t do it!” he reported. “The bad Noah in me did it. The good Noah told me not to do it but the bad Noah won this time.” Not bad for a four year-old, is it? His mother wisely suppressed her laughter and punished Noah (along with his two new friends, Bad Noah and Good Noah).

This is the stuff of which family legends are made. The story spread like wildfire through the extended family network and we all laughed until we cried. I imagine that Noah’s words will weave themselves into the fabric of family culture and be repeated at family birthday parties and holiday gatherings for years to come.

Noah’s recognition of the battle between the bad Noah and the good Noah may not have been effective as a punishment avoidance strategy but its value as an impromptu theology lesson for believers is right on the mark. In Romans 7:15-20, God’s word speaks directly to the internal warfare waged in the hearts and minds of born again believers – the battle between our renewed spirit and our natural soul.

The apostle Paul seems to “get it” when it comes to this intense struggle within. He writes, “What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:15-25 MSG)

Everyone is Doing it

Valentines Day. You either love it or you hate it. My husband hates Valentine’s Day.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, he is creative, romantic, expressive, and believes in love and all that “the day of hearts and flowers” stands for. He just doesn’t understand why we pick one day out of the entire year to “show and tell” our love for each other. He thinks we should go out of our way to make loved ones feel special every day – and if we must do something annually, let’s limit our selfish ways and uncaring words to one day each year.

He is also a leader and not a follower. Whenever “everyone” is doing anything, the opposite course of action begins to appeal to my husband. He is a contrarian and a non-conformist who argues that a gift that is “expected” is no longer special or meaningful. Rather, the expectation reduces the “gift” to an obligation – a duty that must be performed.

Going the extra mile to express love for those you care about – saying or doing something extra special for the one you love needs to be a daily activity, not an annual event. Obviously, a huge part of me agrees with him. Another part of me says, “Hey buddy, where are my flowers?”

If his “unique perspective” was just a philosophy of empty words, I would be in trouble. But I must admit that I am fortunate to be married to a romantic and creative man who frequently goes out of his way to show, and tell me how much he loves me.

I’m so thankful that God doesn’t wait for a “special” day to love us. There is nothing that can compare with the love that the creator has for each of us all the time. He gave us His very best and expresses His love in countless ways everyday. Thankfully, we don’t need to wait for a year to receive His love either.
God’s love for us and our love for Him is an anytime, all the time relationship.

For God so love the world that He gave His only son that who ever believes in Him will never die but live forever. ~ John 3: 16

The Heavenly Hillside

The sun is shining brightly from a cloudless blue sky and the summer grass smells sweet as I run barefoot through the meadow. My gaze is fixed on the overwhelming beauty of the colorful hillside rising before me. A vast expanse of purple, white, and greens hues emanate from the blanket of wild irises that covers the entire hillside.

The brilliant colors fill my young heart with joy and a smile crosses my face. I begin to wonder if heaven is on that hillside. I want it to be. I want so much to keep running up to the radiant splendor of heaven where all the cares of this world will melt away and I will find peace.

As I reach the hillside, I slow down. I begin to climb tentatively at first, almost reverently; not wanting to damage the flowers or taint the beauty of this purple blanket of peacefulness. But the flowers seem to go on forever and I can’t wait to get to the top. My pace increases to a brisk walk, then a gentle jog, and finally a full speed run that moves me faster and faster toward the pinnacle of that heavenly hillside.

Breathless with exertion and expectation, I finally crest the hill and drop to my knees in wonder and delight as the purple blanket of flowers enfolds and comforts me. I lie down and feel the sense of peace and rest that I have desperately longed for – the peace that has eluded me for ten years of life on this planet.

After a timeless rest, I stand up and, from the heights of that heavenly hill, gaze in awe and wonder at the palette of beauty before me. I have found a piece of heaven on earth. With my face and hands lifted to the sky I shout, “Thank You, God” and then proceed to twirl round and round, laughing with delight at the beauty and wonder of life.

This is a precious memory from my childhood. As a child, I believed that God created that heavenly hillside of purple flowers just for me – and maybe he did. I pray that I will never lose that childlike faith and the sense of awe and wonder, of love and beauty, of peace and adventure that is only found in a personal relationship with God. May we all find a heavenly hillside where God is as real to us as life itself.

Looking for Donkeys

On Sunday I heard a message that inspired me. The text was 1 Samuel 9 – the story of how Saul unexpectedly came to discover God’s ultimate purpose and perfect plan for his life. If you’re anything like me, this is something I want to discover in my life.

God had a perfect plan to place an imperfect person in a position of great influence and importance. Physically, Saul was tall, dark and handsome (literally) but in terms of leadership potential, that was about it. He lacked confidence, resolve, courage, and was a bit of a whiner (a lot like me except for the tall, dark, and handsome part). Not only that, Saul was from an ordinary family an insignificant clan from the tiny tribe of Benjamin. In Saul’s culture, birthright, lineage, and position were huge factors.

So here’s the reader’s digest version of the story and a few questions that I hope will make you think.

Saul’s father owned some donkeys that were missing. He asked Saul to take one of the servants and find the donkeys. So off they went. The first day they searched the mountains of Ephraim and the area surrounding the city of Shalisha to no avail. The next day they criss-crossed the district of Shaalim and hunted through the territory of Benjamin – still no donkeys. The third day found them lost and “donkey-less” in the land of Zuph. Saul was ready to return home to his father. He feared his father would stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about them.

When Saul told his servant that he wanted to go home, his servant (who should have just said, “Yes, sir”), told Saul about a man of God in this city who might be able to help them. Saul reminded the servant they had no food, money, or gift to give the man of God (it was customary to offer compensation to a prophet for his help). Saul’s servant was expecting the unexpected. He produced a quarter of a shekel of silver and gave it to Saul.

Question: When you feel that you have nothing left to offer, can you believe that God will still provide for you in unexpected ways?

On their way into town, they met some young women and asked if they knew where to find the man of God. They did - he was in town and just ahead of them. Saul and his servant hurried into town and encountered Samuel (the prophet) as they were entering the city.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. The day before, God told Samuel that he would send the man who was to be the king of Israel to Zuph from the land of Benjamin. When Samuel saw Saul, God let him know that Saul was the chosen one.

Picture this - as they greet each other, Samuel is most likely in a state of awe as he reverently beholds God’s providential choice for the first king of Israel. At the same time, Saul is hoping his servant’s quarter shekel of silver is enough to convince Samuel to help him find his donkeys.

Question: Are you expecting the unexpected from God and looking for his best in your life or are you obsessed with finding donkeys?

Much to Saul’s surprise, Samuel told Saul that the donkeys had been found and then invited Saul and his servant to be his guests for the evening. Saul was surprised by the invitation, the unexpected dinner, the seat of honor at the table of influential people, the prime cut of meat, the private audience with Samuel, and the royal treatment and accommodations he received. The next morning Samuel anointed Saul the future king of Israel.

Question: Are you aware that God wants to feed and fill you and provide you with a place of rest, refreshment, and restoration – and that He wants to pour the anointing oil of his love on you and reveal the place of purpose, meaning, fulfillment, influence, and leadership for which you were created?

This is really a story of how God orchestrates circumstances to put his perfect plan into motion. Saul was about to become the first king of Israel – and he thought he was looking for donkeys.

There’s nothing wrong with looking for donkeys. But never forget that with God, anything can happen. Something much bigger may be happening while you’re looking for those donkeys. An entirely new beginning may be just around the bend. Don’t miss what God is doing in your life. Expect the unexpected.